Panel Discussions: Cartoon Violence – Pow! Bam! Whap!
You know the clichéd newspaper headline — the go-to set-up for a story about the comics medium crafted by lazy journalists and uninspired headline writers (which has come back into circulation with the Summer slate of super-hero and comic book franchises adapted to the cinema).
Pow! Bam! Whap!
It’s also the pop culture shorthand for confrontation… cartoon violence. We have Wile E. Coyote getting flattened by anvils raining from the sky. Jerry striking Tom in the noggin with a giant mallet. Scratchy cutting a bloody swath through Itchy with a chainsaw. Nobody gets hurt in cartoon violence — not in a celluloid world where the images dance before us choreographed by mischievous animators.
But what happens when the same manic desire to do unto others with the same antic ardor grips characters in our real world drama? What happens when two-dimensional ideas and flat-world thinking intrude into our existence — and the four-fingered hand of cartoon violence is pulling our strings?
I’m referencing the recent events in the Muslim world inflamed by Danish cartoon images, initially published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, that insulted the Prophet Muhammed. Radical leaders and mullahs seized on the shameful depictions and with equally cartoonish fervor rallied their followers with the notion that the caricatures were yet another Crusader attack.
The idea of freedom-of-expression — no matter how tasteless — was certainly lost in translation. The concept of free thought that was not part of a state-sponsored media organ was, in turn, certainly inconceivable in the Arab Street. The public was told what to believe by reckless leaders who have conditioned them to accept it — on faith.
Pictures have power… iconic representations of ideas in the most immediate sense that can speak volumes more than the oft-cited thousand words. Pictures tap into a fundamental set of core concepts rooted deeply in our collective cultural unconscious. Pictures have resonance and can move us — bringing us closer to what is the best in us — or appealing to the worst in us and driving us apart. Pictures are language in the purest sense.
Pictures as language, according to the known archeological record, began with the Lascaux cave paintings and took further shape with the Phoenencian alphabet, ultimately evolving into our written languages. Today we have the corporate brand mark or the emoticon on our computer screen.
Pictures in this role as the lingua franca of the undercurrent of culture are often employed in the expression of an ideology. Pictures conveyed in poster, film or cartoon image cut through the static, and speak to every societal strata with refined and calculated grace as finely-tuned messaging often crafted by image consultants — or like a hammer reinforcing the message with the cudgel of blunt force directness.
The power of pictures expressed with the simplicity of clownish, cartoon images was enough to inflame a culture long suspicious of the motivations of the West. The eruption of rage and violence that had occurred as a result of these twelve simple line drawings was difficult to process by a Western culture quite jaded by and accustomed to scandal and outrage. But, the fact that a humble cartoon drawing can shift opinion and move a population to action is certainly not without precedent.
After all — it was a cartoonist, the great Thomas Nast (creator of Uncle Sam, the Republican Elephant, the Democrat Donkey as well as our modern conception of Santa Claus) who was instrumental in the downfall of Boss Tweed in the 1870s. Nast’s depictions of William M. Tweed and the Tammany Tiger were powerful enough to convey to a semi-literate public that there was corruption in Tammany Hall. The pictures with their forthright and singular message were able to sway the voters and bring Boss Tweed’s reign as a power broker in New York City politics to an end.
This mechanism has been harnessed as an effective propaganda tool in the service of political and commercial interests. In recent U.S. history, it’s been reported that the FBI employed a cartoon campaign to undermine the Black Panter Party in the late sixties. In 1983 the CIA produced a comic book that was air-dropped over Grenada in 1984 in order to garner support for the 1983 invasion.  It’s also been reported that the CIA sponsored a comic strip published in anti-government newspapers in Nicaragua as well as a comic book sabotage manual designed to support the Contra insurgency during the late 80s. 
Comic Book propaganda has also been recently enlisted in the War on Terror by the U.S. Military and is fighting for hearts and minds of youth in the Middle East. And coming soon to a bookstore near you — The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón will ship in late August from Hill and Wang (the nonfiction imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — just in time for the Fifth Anniversary media extravaganza. 
Pictures have power — and that power can be subverted and misused. However, it’s worth remembering that pictures are two-dimensional… the page — or a cheek — can be turned in order to get another side of the story.
Cartoon violence when rendered into our three-dimensional word is not all fun-and-games. Real people get hurt. Real people get killed.
And those who would pull the strings and make us dance before a Toontown landscape — those who would draw us apart to serve their own agenda — well, they’re still at the drawing board.
Recent awards and recognitions for Ogline’s illustration work include a 2008 Graphis Gold Award as well as recent inclusions in Society of Illustrators Los Angeles Illustration West 47, Creative Quarterly 15, and Creative Quarterly 13 award shows. Tim’s illustration work has been published by a number of different periodicals including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Wall Street Journal, the Utne Reader, Outdoor Life, This Old House Magazine, Institutional Investor, Philadelphia Style, Loyola Lawyer, How Magazine, and The Florida Review among others.
Ogline is also a former Adjunct Assistant Professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.
Tim Ogline in this Edition
Electrical Activity of the Heart – Money Talks
Electrical Activity of the Heart – Opening Books and Closing Doors
Electrical Activity of the Heart – Rise and Shine
Electrical Activity of the Heart – The Vision Thing